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Overall Rating
3.88

Awesome: 12.5%
Worth A Look75%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 12.5%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 2 user ratings


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Five Deadly Venoms, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Choose your poison."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 BOSTON FANTASTIC FILM FESTIVAL: We all have guilty pleasures - or, for those mature enough not to feel guilt about things which bring them happiness without doing any harm, simply entertainment we love even though we know they aren't in the same category of quality as some of our other favorites Fortunately, it's not just individuals that indulge those impulses, and thanks to the UCLA Film & Television Archive's restoration program, "The Five Venoms", which became famous with poorly-dubbed nth-generation prints on late night television, is now available in a clean, subtitled theatrical print.

Of course, the new translation doesn't go a long way toward making its set-up less unlikely: Yang Tieh (Shang Chiang), the last disciple of a dying martial arts master, is instructed to seek out the five previous disciples, who are converging on a small city to seek out the clan's lost treasure. Each has deadly martial arts skills inspired by a different venomous animal, while Yang Tieh knows a bit of each. The bad news is that the Venoms trained in masks, so Yang Tieh has no description to work from other than fighting styles. It soon becomes clear that a local constable, He Yuan-xin (Philip Kwok) is the wall-climbing Gecko and likely one of the good guys, while wealthy merchant Qi Dong (Pai Wei) is the greedy Snake. We soon see which side Toad-style fighter Liang Shen (Meng Lo) and Centipede-style Zhang Yiao-tian (Feng Lu) are on, but Scorpion remains an unknown wild card.

As silly as the story is, it is still notable among Shaw Brothers films in that it actually works fairly well. All too often kung fu movies, even today, are thirty minutes of fights and sixty minutes of perfunctory scenes meant to weakly justify the fights while keeping the seperate. Or they just seem that way because the plots involve some piece of intrigue between royal houses and rival martial arts styles that are highly confusing for Westerners and probably at least somewhat arcane for Chinese audiences. The Five Venoms offers mysteries to solve and alliances to scrutinize, but it's all contained within this single story, with no outside knowledge required. Big chunks of that story seem to defy common sense - Yang Tieh is spectacularly unhelpful (practically absent!) when Liang Shen is framed for murder, for instance - but despite that, there is a story worth grabbing on to.

The characters are reasonably individual beyond their fighting styles, too. Pai Wei is a good sneering villain, but manages to be a good contrast to the more straightforwardly brutal thug that Feng Lu plays; it's the sort of partnership where the two don't respect each other much at all. Philip Kwok and Chien Sun have a more comfortable camaraderie as what seem to be the only cops in town not on Snake's payroll, good enough to give the audience the feeling that they've got other stories to tell beyond this one. Meng Lo is cheerful, if somewhat stupid, exuberance as Liang Shen. He actually becomes somewhat tragic in the way he's betrayed by his trust in Yuan-xin and Yang Tieh.

Of course, all this secondary to the fights, which are well worth the ticket price. Director Cheh Chang was a workhorse for the studio, directing dozens of martial arts films in the 1970s, and this one shows the hand of a seasoned pro. He sets up the individual styles at the beginning of the film so that when the Venoms do finally square off, the individual fighters can be recognized by how they fight. The fighting is rough, and generally well-choreographed without looking too staged. Chang doesn't stint on the blood where appropriate, either; some of these fighters deserve the "Deadly" that previous U.S. editions have included in the name.

Maybe "The Five Venoms" isn't going to be everyone's first choice of films to expend restoration resources on, but why not? Cheh Chang was a huge name in this category, and this film is one of his most popular - later films which shared cast members would be referred to as starring "The Five Venoms", even if they had no other relation to this movie. For all that this movie is famous for kitsch value, though, it's actually a well-built action film. You can like it for being good as well as for being bad.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=14560&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/22/06 03:51:03
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2006 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantasia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Boston Fantastic Film Festival For more in the 2006 Boston Fantastic Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: New York Asian Film Festival 2009 For more in the New York Asian Film Festival 2009 series, click here.

User Comments

6/05/15 MatthewThompsonDalldorf My favorite style is Gecko. It's deadly and can save you money on car insurance. 5 stars
8/13/13 PAUL SHORTT THIN, STRANGE KUNG FU HOKUM 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  02-Nov-1978 (R)
  DVD: 16-May-2000

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Cheh Chang

Written by
  Cheh Chang
  Kuang Ni

Cast
  Sheng Chiang
  Philip Kwok
  Feng Lu
  Pai Wei
  Chien Sun
  Meng Lo



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